A Church Order Challenge: Discipline by Appeal Only?
June 23, 2021
3 comments 666 views
With the most recent discussion at the latest Council of Delegates meeting about Neland Ave CRC’s installation of a same-sex married deacon, a recent Banner article said this:
Neland said in its statement that neither the Council nor even synod, can impose discipline on a church council. That view was affirmed by Kathy Smith, the CRC’s Church Order expert. “In this situation the [Council] cannot discipline a local council,” she told the Council. “Synod cannot do this either unless there is an appeal.” To date, no one has appealed Neland’s decision.
I would like to present The Network readers with a challenge: Where in the Church Order do we find the claim that synod is unable to begin the discipline process unless there is an appeal? I have searched the Church Order and I can’t seem to find this information anywhere.
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JUDICIAL CODE OF RIGHTS AND PROCEDURES
Supplement, Article 30-c
Section 1 a. page 51 of the church order
Disputes arising from allegations of offenses against the Word of God, doctrinal standards, or Church Order are subject to resolution under the Judicial Code.
Written charges may be filed by: an assembly against another assembly or against a member;
It seems to me that Neland (and Classis GR East) should be dealt with under the Judicial Code rather than the appeals process. There is a dispute. It arises from offenses against the Word of God (and Lord's Day 41 of the Heidelberg Catecism). Therefore, because it is a matter between an assembly (Synod) against another assembly (Neland) it shoud be dealt with under the provisions of the Judicial Code.
The subtext to this entire discussion is that there are competing interpretations being presented here regarding the relationship of the major assemblies to the minor assemblies. Neland's position may be based on a specific understanding of this relationship, which is up for debate.
The Goderich situation in 1980 (appealed in 1982) may apply to this situation. When Classis intervened in a situation they were accused of lording it over the local church and acting in a hierarchical fashion, and Synod determined that the accusation came from a misunderstanding of church order and authority. Their grounds included the following:
1. Classis did not exceed its authority when it engaged itself with the situation at Goderich CRC. Christ gave authority to the church as a whole and thereby entrusted authority to the occasions of its exercise in Classis and synod as gatherings of the churches to maintain the unity of the congregations in both doctrine and discipline.
2. The gathering of the churches and their representatives in Jerusalem set a pattern of authoritative decision; which pattern is followed in principle in the deliberations and decisions of the major assemblies.
3. To contend that Classis Huron had no proper jurisdiction over the Goderich consistory proceeds on a mistaken conception of the relation of the minor assembly to the major assembly. The same authority, constituting the same standards and the same goals, is applied by the several assemblies. Classis Huron adhered to the correct use of the authority delegated to them by Christ.
Perhaps most pertinent is Synod's conclusion following the appeal in 1982, that "The Synod of 1980 declared that it is indeed proper according to Reformed Church polity for either Classis or Synod to intervene in the affairs of a local congregation, if the welfare of that congregation is at stake. "
I've found this article by Ryan Faber to be helpful in laying out the differing perspectives concerning the relationship between major and minor assemblies. Classic Reformed polity would seem to be much clearer on the right or duty of oversight of major assemblies, while the more recent Doleantie perspective tries to limit this authority. Both perspectives appear in various Synodical decisions throughout the years, but don't think that there's any consensus that the Doleantie perspective is the settled perspective of the CRC, and it certainly shouldn't be presented as the only perspective.
One helpful quote from the article:
"These answers indicate that in historic Reformed polity minor assemblies are indeed subject to major assemblies; minor assemblies must submit themselves to the decisions of the major assemblies. Where the decisions of the assemblies differ, the decision of the major assembly takes precedence. Thus, a minor assembly must rescind or revise its decision to align with that of the major assembly. Major assemblies possess supervisory power over minor assemblies. Particularly with regard to misconduct, major assemblies have power. A major assembly may discipline, even depose, members of a minor assembly – a principle rejected by the Doleantie’s congregationalist ecclesiology."
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